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Lucy
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Noah
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

And So It Goes
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and drug elements
Release Date:
July 25, 2014

 

Sabotage
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating:
Rated R For strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Release Date:
March 28, 2014

Wish I Was Here
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Release Date:
July 18, 2014

 

Transcendence
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality
Release Date:
April 19, 2014

Control Room

posted by rkumar
A
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Truth is a mosaic. Facts are the tiles that have to be pieced together, and it is only in standing back and looking at the whole that one can see the patterns.

This documentary by Jehane Noujaim tries to provide some of that perspective by letting us look at the Arab news network Al-Jazeera and its broadcasts on the war in Iraq.

They say that history is written by the victors. But maybe that is because victory is determined by the historians. What American politicians and broadcasters portray as a “mission accomplished” may be seen very differently by the other side. Both sides may watch the bombs being dropped, but we hear the crisply uniformed officers of Central Command (CentCom) recite statistics about what has been successfully achieved while the Arab world hears women crying about the inhumanity of the world’s greatest superpower murdering civilians.

In Noujaim’s film, form and content intersect as she provides an even-handed look at four key characters, letting them speak for themselves. The most vivid and compelling are Marine Lt. Josh Rushing and Sudanese Al-Jazeera correspondent Hassan Ibrahim. Rushing, liaison to the Arab journalists, is everything you would hope for in an American and particularly the representative of America to a skeptical culture. He may be naive at times, but he is always open-minded, curious, sincere, honorable, and genuinely committed not just to telling our story but to listening to the stories of others. Ibrahim is like the character Clark Gable used to play in all those WWII-era movies about the cynical journalists with the hearts of gold. He is patient, dedicated, and even optimistic, declaring his “absolute confidence in the U.S. Constitution.”

More compelling than any protestation of journalistic ethics is a producer’s fury at being given an “expert” guest who may have been on the “right” side, but was not credible enough to support it. And we see that other concerns transcend both journalism and politics as a cynical, even bitter Al-Jazeera producer tells us “If I’m offered a job with Fox I will take it, change the Arab nightmare into the American dream.” This longing for the individual opportunities in America is in stark contrast to the passionate hatred for the collective policies of America as a character says that “Tears are too easy. For me that was a crime that should be avenged.”

Americans watch the news of the war in Iraq on CNN and the broadcast networks and believe we are getting the real story. The Arab world watches news of the war on Al-Jazeera and believe they are getting the real story. This movie watches both and gives us a different real story, or maybe another piece that helps us understand how no attempt or pretense of objectivity can ever escape bias completely.

Some scenes have more power now than they did when the movie was made. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces that “liars will be caught” as the movie shows us a part of the truth Americans were not fully told. And it is impossible not to feel a chill as President Bush says, “I expect our prisoner to be treated humanely just like we treat theirs humanely.”

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and graphic battle footage, including images of dead and wounded bodies and razed buildings that may be very upsetting to some viewers.

Families who see this movie should talk about how they get the news and what they do to ensure that they are getting the most complete and objective information possible. Noujaim used only a tiny fraction of the footage she shot. How did she shape the story? What do you think about the emphasis she gave to parts of the story like the translator’s reaction to the American politicians and the death of the Al-Jazeera reporter? What is the difference between reporting and propaganda? How does CNN compare to Fox? How do NBC, ABC, and CBS compare to PBS? To Al-Jazeera? How does television compare to newspapers? The internet? What can we do to make sure that we get our information from places that do more than reinforce our own perspectives? One character says he is representing his station but also representing his people. Is there a conflict there? If so, which commitment is more important?

Families who appreciate this movie will also appreciate Noujaim’s previous film, Startup.com as well as the documentaries by Michael Moore (which make no pretence of objectivity).

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

posted by rkumar
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for rude and sexual humor, and language.
Movie Release Date:2004

Think Bad News Bears crossed with Happy Gilmore. Except with dodgeball, which means many, many opportunities for humorous slams to the head, chest, and crotch. That pretty much sums it up.

Pete (Vince Vaughn) is about to lose his gym, the comfy hang-out “Average Joe’s,” to White (Ben Stiller), the owner of the uber-exercise facility known as Globo Gym (slogan: “We’re better than you are!”) To save the gym, he needs $50,000 in 30 days. And that just happens to be the purse for the winner of the big dodgeball tournament that one of Average Joe’s regulars finds in the pages of his Obscure Sports Quarterly magazine.

So Pete and his gang of misfits decide to take their shot. The group includes Justin (Justin Long of television’s “Ed”), Stephen Root (Office Space), and Steve the Pirate (Alan Tudyk), a guy who refers to himself in the third person and thinks he is a pirate. After winning the qualifying regional title on a technicality, they are approached by the world’s greatest dodgeball coach (Rip Torn), who reminds them that “dodgeball is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation” and in just three weeks turns them into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Or at least into a group that can duck when a wrench is thrown their way. And they pick up a new team member who can throw very, very hard.

Then it’s off to the big game, with preliminary skirmishes before facing the Globo team, men-mountains who all have names like “Laser” and “Taser” plus a unibrowed woman with very bad teeth.

All of this is just an excuse for pure silliness — lots of balls slamming into lots of people, some funny surprise cameo appearances, Ben Stiller’s clueless bully persona, and insult humor. Gary Cole and Jason Bateman have some good moments as sportscasters and Hank Azaria is fun to watch in an old instructional film the team uses to learn how to play. Most of the laughs are less in the “wow, that’s funny category” than in the “I can’t believe they tried that” category, as when a uniform mix-up has the Average Joes appearing at a match in bondage gear, but there aren’t many real clunkers. Pete’s slacker demeanor never gives Vaughn a chance to make use of his greatest asset, the slightly ADD vibe he showed to such advantage in Swingers and Clay Pigeons. And Christine Taylor (Stiller’s real-life wife) deserves better than a role that is essentially the same one she played in Zoolander. But it all moves pretty quickly and is over before it wears out its welcome.

Parents should know that the movie has some very mature material for a PG-13 including explicit sexual humor with jokes about adultery, group sex, pornography, genital size, bondage, and homosexuality along with some very strong language including many double entrendres featuring the word “balls.” Characters drink frequently, including drinking to dull pain. The coach taunts the team by calling them “ladies.”

Families who see this movie should talk about some of their own experience in feeling like an underdog. What should Pete have done when White made him an offer? Families should also talk about perseverance, and the comment made by one character that “if a person never quits after the going gets rough, they won’t have anything to regret for the rest of their lives.”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy Happy Gilmore, Zoolander, and, for older audiences, Old School (rated R). They can also check out this site for more information about different ways to play dodgeball (also called bombardment) or some of the news stories about efforts to ban the game at schools because of its violence and susceptibility to abuse and bullying.

The Clearing

posted by rkumar
B-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

Why would such a murky movie be called “The Clearing?”

Robert Redford plays Wayne, a very successful businessman who lives in a beautiful house with Eileen, his loving if somewhat reserved wife (Helen Mirren). When he does not show up for a dinner with friends he did not particularly want to see, at first she is annoyed and embarrassed. But then she is worried. She files a missing person report. And then she hears from the kidnappers.

Wayne has been abducted by Arnold (Willem Dafoe), who is frog-marching him to the top of a mountain, but won’t tell him why or what will happen to him.

Wayne is known for his skills at communication and negotiation. Can he use them to persuade Arnold to let him go?

At home, Eileen waits as the FBI tries to find Wayne and get him home. Her daughter and her son (Alessandro Nivola) with his wife and baby join her to wait.

And that’s about it. There are glimpses and hints of more. The adult daughter seems to be retreating, sleeping in her mother’s bed and curling into the fetal position, barely speaking. Eileen insists on celebrating her grandson’s first birthday. Why do we learn that after Wayne sold his business, his next venture failed?

Either these were intended to provide some subtle atmosphere and complexity to a straightforward story or (more likely) they relate to plot points that may have been diminished by last-minute cuts after unsatisfactory test screenings. They are more distracting than evocative.

But Mirren’s performance almost makes it worthwhile. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time. Her Eileen is richly complex, whether trying on clothes or confronting Wayne’s mistress. She makes us feel Wayne’s ache at the thought of losing her and adds depth and resonance to the movie that makes us feel its other failures even more sharply.

Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language and some violence. Characters drink and smoke. There are sexual references, including adultery. There are very tense scenes that may be upsetting to some audience members.

Families who see this movie should talk about the choices made by Wayne and Eileen. If you had the chance to write a note like the one Wayne writes to Eileen, what would it say? (For some similar examples in movies, see The Ox-Bow Incident and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.)

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Three Days of the Condor.

The Notebook

posted by rkumar
C+
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
Movie Release Date:2004

I was really hoping for this year’s Bridges of Madison County, a big-budget production that turned a mediocre weepie book into a better-than-mediocre weepie movie. I held my handkerchief in my hand, but no tears came. Instead, the full-scale Hollywood treatment just emphasizes the inadequacy of the source material. Exquisite cinematography, appealing themes, and some real-deal movie stars are not enough to make this syrupy saga worth watching.

A man comes to read to a woman in a nursing home. It is a story about a summer romance between Allie (Rachel McAdams), the daughter of wealthy parents, and Noah (Ryan Gosling) a poor boy. A montage later, they are crazy about each other. But her parents suddenly decide they have to break up and they send her to school up north. He writes to her every day. She never responds.

Then he goes off to fight in World War II and she falls in love with a handsome wounded officer named Lon (James Marsden) and agrees to marry him. But she sees Noah’s picture in the newspaper. He is restoring the house he once told her he would make into a home for the two of them, which of course requires another montage. Even though she has all but forgotten him and is perfectly happy being engaged to Lon, she has to see Noah once more. And after she sees him, she has to decide which man is the one she really loves.

As this story is read aloud, the woman in the nursing home listens attentively, occasionally almost seeming to recognize some of it. This couple’s relationship to the people in the story will not come as a surprise to anyone.

But the real problem with the film is that the details and dialogue are so crashingly clumsy that they bring any momentum in the movie to a screeching halt. Noah sees Allie and is immediately smitten. So far, so good. He climbs up a moving ferris wheel to ask her out, even though she is riding it with her boyfriend. Okay. But then she responds by pulling down his pants. Huh? He finally persuades her to go out on a date with him, basically by nagging her, and then the big moment on the date when they realize how perfect they are for each other comes when he persuades her to lie down in the middle of the street with him.

Later there is the exchange with her fiance, when she realizes that something is missing in her life but somehow doesn’t want to admit that what is missing is Noah. So she charges into Lon’s office in the middle of a meeting to tell him that she once used to want to paint but somehow has stopped painting. He responds supportively and reasonably, if unmemorably, “Well, paint!”

And what is the deal with Allie’s mother? Her parents seem fine with the romance with Noah at first until one late night makes them think that it is all too serious and she has to be sent away. Then, when Allie goes back to see Noah, her mother comes to get her and tries to show her that she should go back to Lon by driving past her own lost love for a longing gaze.

We never believe in Allie’s feelings for Noah or Lon, partly because none of them ever come alive as characters. It’s all description, not depiction. We do care about the couple in the nursing home, but the connection to the other story is never strong enough to keep our attention.

Gosling is one of the most talented actors of his generation, but he flounders in this role. Garner, Rowlands, Sam Shepherd as Noah’s father and Joan Allen as Allie’s mother give the material much more than it deserves, and director Nick Cassavettes clearly wants this film to be a love letter to Rowlands, his mother. She is luminous, and we do believe she could inspire great love. Too bad it’s not in a great movie.

Parents should know that the movie has explicit sexual references and situations for a PG-13. A teenage couple agree to have sex, but then she becomes very flustered and anxious. An engaged girl has sex with a man who is not her fiance. Characters drink and smoke. The movie has brief battle violence, some graphic injuries, and some poignant deaths. The themes of the movie may be upsetting to some viewers.

Families who see this movie should talk about the way that diseases like Alzheimer’s affect the family and how they can best respond. They should also talk about how we know who we are meant to be with and who we should listen to as we think about making that choice. A character in this movie says, “I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul and for me that has been enough.” Is that enough for you?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy A Walk to Remember and Message in a Bottle, based on books by the same author, Nicholas Sparks.

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